Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Will astronomers recognize Frank Kameny's contributions?

Dr. Frank Kameny is the most famous former astronomer that astronomers don't know.  Within the gay rights' community, he was a pioneer:  co-founder of the Mattachine society (an early gay rights organization); a scientific conscience that challenged the American Psychiatric Association's classification of homosexuality as a disorder as grounded in prejudice rather than science; an agitator to remove the ban on gays from serving in the government or holding security clearances.  Moreover, Dr. Kameny was a moral force who led by example, showing that gay people didn't need to hide in the shadows, grateful not to be beaten up.  Rather, we could stand up and demand fair treatment and equality.  For most of the last 50 years, that was a radical notion.

Dr. Kameny was fired from government service in 1957 for being gay.  In 2009, the White House formally apologized for his firing.  While this was a big deal in the gay rights' community, it didn't get much noticed by astronomers.  I find that very curious.  After all, the 2010 Decadal Survey (our every-ten-year examination of our profession's priorities) notes that "not all highly capable students" who are "trained in astronomical research" "will take up long-term positions in astronomy" (what a wishy-washy statement on the job market!), and that therefore students should be "educated and exposed to issues of public policy."  So, students: go read about Frank.  Professors:  include him in your "exploring career paths" workshop.  (You have one, right?)  

Two new Facebook groups seek to recognize Frank's accomplishments.  You can buy him a drink to thank him for his activism (actually it helps pay his utilities, but who's counting?), or you can support the creation of a Frank Kameny prize by the American Astronomical Society. 

1 comment:

Jonathan Lubin said...

I see that he has died recently (Oct., '11). A great loss...